KAVA Conference Centre
- Wirtz International Landscape Architects
The leafy garden of the Royal Pharmacists’ Association of Antwerp (KAVA) is one of the city’s best kept secrets. Between 1973 and 1977, against a backdrop of honourable forest giants - some of which are more than 150 years old - the architect Georges Baines designed a new headquarters for KAVA comprising a modernist front building and a ‘garden pavilion’. In 2014, the front building was sold and replaced by an apartment block. KAVA moved to an adjacent new building and - as a result of a private design competition - commissioned POLO Architects to replace the garden pavilion with a new complex of conference rooms.
The practical designing principle consists of transforming the old Baines building shell into a fully functional conference and training centre for KAVA and other (para)medical professional associations, while retaining the bulk of the underground car park and the above-ground support structure. Replacing the existing - virtually non-insulated - shell was unavoidable.
In order to accommodate higher visitor numbers, the existing underground car park capacity was increased and the above-ground volume alongside the garden was completed with a new fully fledged auditorium. The large central lobby, complete with a front desk and a bar, is surrounded by several meeting rooms that are various sizes, among which is a ‘pharmacy’ displaying intriguing artifacts from a 19th century Mechelen apothecary and a ‘garden room’ offering a view on the new terrace and the garden.
Despite a lavish use of glass, the original building was rather closed in terms of space. That is why the new design for the conference centre’s floor plans, roofs and facades aimed to significantly improve the connection with the garden, the presence of natural light and spaciousness in general.
There are large new roof glazing systems which allow natural light to penetrate into the heart of the low building and offer a view on the old trees. From the lobby, along the auditorium’s sloping ceiling, you have a great view outside and just a few steps away from the street, there are two new patios which set the tone for the actual garden. Multiple visual axes lace spaces together, while an imaginary diagonal line slices through the building and separates the urban space from the building block’s green heart. In every way, this building makes a resolute, public and inviting gesture.
The 1976 garden design by Jacques Wirtz was refreshed by the younger generation of landscape architects from Wirtz International. The KAVA house rises anew in a different form: a multifaceted metamorphosis bringing forth a captivating ensemble.